Thursday, February 04, 2016

Quaint Notions

Avoiding the appearance of impropriety used to be a matter of concern, especially for elected officials. Back in the olden days, a mayor or a congressman wouldn’t appoint his biggest campaign donor’s wayward progeny to a high paying job they were utterly unqualified for, because of ethical issues AND the appearance of impropriety.

Every now and then we give ethics a workout. Congressman Frank Guinta’s foolish acceptance of campaign funds from mommy was a thorny ethics problem for him, especially when he so vociferously called former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter a liar for actually pointing out HIS lies.

On the big stuff we sometimes pay attention. But when it comes to the small, ongoing questionable matters of ethics and conflict of interest, we don’t pay that much attention. Especially when it comes to New Hampshire’s 400 person volunteer legislature. The sheer number of legislators is problematic in itself. The other big problem is that there aren’t many investigative reporters working in our state any more. Newspapers are cutting back on staff, and trying to figure out how to survive and go forward into a very uncertain media future. In other words, nobody is really watching over the conflicts of interest our 400 state representatives and 24 senators may or may not have.

Are there conflicts of interest? Let’s take a look at a few bills.

HB 1554 is a bill to establish a sports lottery in NH. There would be lottery games for which one would purchase a ticket. There would also be lottery game machines.  The licenses for this sports lottery would be issued to individuals who have valid liquor licenses.

As it happens, the lead sponsor of HB 1554 is Representative Adam Schroadter, who owns a place that has live music, serves food and liquor.

HB 1252 is a bill that would permit employers to pay their employees either weekly or biweekly. An employer could petition the labor commissioner to pay even less frequently than that, although it would have to be once a month.

Many low wage workers work a couple of part time jobs. These are folks scraping to get by. Paying them even less frequently isn’t going to help them out any. Worse, though – is the impact this can have on tipped employees. Some restaurant/bar owners include credit card tips left for servers in their paychecks. This means a server might have to wait 2 weeks to get their tips. Given that the tipped wage is 45% of the minimum wage of $7.25 in NH, these folks aren’t paying their rent with their hourly wage. It does, however, benefit the employer who will spend less doing payroll and cutting checks for employees.

The lead sponsor of this bill is Representative Laurie Sanborn. She and her husband, State Senator Andy Sanborn own a sports bar in Concord. Representative Adam Schroadter is a sponsor, and so is Representative Keith Murphy. He owns a bar in Manchester.

HB 1540 is an act relative to shipments of beer. Sponsors? Murphy and Schroadter. HB 114 establishes beer specialty licenses. Sponsors? Murphy.

Murphy is a member of the Free State Project, those wacky armed miscreants moving to NH to take over our state government and threaten secession. The Free State Project party line is that the libertarians are coming to leave you alone! They want small government! Government small enough to benefit their own businesses and those of their allies.

No one said boo when Rep. Dan McGuire (R. Free State) sponsored a bill that would have caused taxpayers to foot the bill for the millions that would be required to move the Suncook River back after it jumped its streambed during a big storm. It wasn’t a feasible project, according to engineers, but McGuire went ahead. That his house is on the bank of the former riverbed was surely just a coincidence. It seems we don’t really pay much attention to conflicts of interest, and the “appearance of impropriety” is a quaint notion from the past.

The New Hampshire General Court Ethics Booklet is a useful publication. From Part One:

Public Office As A Public Trust
Legislators should treat their office as a public trust, only using the powers and resources of public office to advance public interests, and not to attain personal benefits or pursue any other private interest incompatible with the public good.

This sounds as if legislators shouldn’t be writing bills to benefit themselves or their own businesses. Hmmm. Will these restaurant and bar owners abstain from voting on their own bills? The odds that they will are slim to none – and slim is out of town.

There are a number of minimum wage bills, including bills that would increase the tipped minimum wage. All business owners should abstain from voting on these bills – especially owners of businesses in the hospitality industry. It’s the only industry where customers are expected to directly pay the wages of the staff. Imagine if you had to tip your bank teller or pharmacist. Owners love to howl that if they had to pay employees a decent wage they’d have to raise their prices sky high. As anyone who has ever traveled knows, other countries seem to make it work. Not only does it work - they all have single payer health care. Damned socialist hellholes.

In other news, the first in the nation primary is upon us. The calls, the door knocking, the mailings, and the ads…oh, it’s almost over.
Given that this is NH, I expect most readers have met at least one candidate, and been to events, and done some reading and talking and thinking about who to vote for.  I hope you’ll all find time to exercise the franchise on February 9th. The NH legislature continues to try to solve the non-existent problem of voter fraud by attempting to make voter participation increasingly difficult. Vote while you still can. 

The primary circus will leave town, and we can get down to the serious business of our state elections. As big and colorful as the primary stuff is, the folks we elect to our local, county, and state governments have a much bigger impact on our daily lives than the president does. Thanks to Citizens United, the cash spigot will be flowing in ways we’ve never seen or imagined. We will all need to pay close attention.

This was published as an op-ed in the February 4, 2016 issue of the Conway Daily Sun.  


Victoria Parmele said...

Thank you Susan; great connecting of dots as usual.

I connected one myself tonight - got an email about a bill, HB1686 to repeal the Land and Community Heritage Program. I checked who the sponsors were, and lo and behold, I hit the Free State Project jackpot - Reps. Keith Ammon, J.R. Hoell, Glen Aldrich, Jason Osborne, and Laura Jones.

The "leave us alone" gang is at it again.

Victoria Parmele said...

23 members of the House Finance Committee voted that HB1686 was Inexpedient to legislate. But Free State Project Rep. Dan McGuire voted against ITL, and because the vote wasn't unanimous, it will go to the House for possible debate.

Rep McGuire said LCHIP should be repealed because: it wasn't in the public interest to remove land from "productive" uses (property tax generation?); the Legislature shouldn't make decisions that future legislatures could not revoke; the state money probably doesn't cause other money to be put into projects. Rep. McGuire said there was interest in conservation before LCHIP was created, and it would continue if the program did not exist.

What do Free Staters have against land conservation, and why ?

The vote was a good outcome for LCHIP. It will also be helpful if many legislators hear that their constituents support the continuation of LCHIP between now and when the vote comes to the House. I’ll let you know when that date is set.

susanthe said...

Free Staters think everything should be privately owned. Everything. In the world of the FSP, everything is for sale, everything is a financial transaction, and nothing is done without expectation of some kind of payback.

You will appreciate the irony in this story, Victoria. A historic farm in Dunbarton was preserved by LCHIP. Folks in town were pretty happy about this. Dunbarton is also the home of JR Hoell. The people who vote for him have no idea who he is or what he represents. They vote for the R next to his name.

Bob Wolff said...

Good to read your piece, Susan! Hope the election improves things for the future!